Books and walking have a lot in common. Walking for its own sake, rather than as a means of getting somewhere, became popular in early 19th-century northern Europe, with writers eager to put themselves in closer contact with nature -- the source, they had come to believe, of the truest inspiration.
Still today, many people feel that walking is a form of therapy and its regular rhythms a form of meditation. It's healthy too. Hiking a set distance is apparently between two thirds and three quarters as beneficial to your system as jogging it.
Taipei is particularly fortunate for being surrounded by hills that, in the cooler winter months, provide an almost endless source of new outdoor experiences.
Englishman Richard Saunders has published two guides to day-trips on foot in the area, the first in 1998, which was re-issued last year in an expanded and improved edition. We will review this updated text later. Today we examine the second, newer volume.
One of the surprises of Taipei Day Trips 1 was the omission of Ta Tun Shan, the mountain that offers the most unspoiled hiking routes in the Yangmingshan area. But perhaps the author was saving it for the sequel, and here it is, with a long chapter close to the start of Taipei Day Trips 2.
Surprisingly, Saunders suggests a start at the fumarole on the side of Chihsing Shan (Seven Star Mountain). I've always found it better to take the S7 minibus from outside Peitou MRT Station which very conveniently takes you to the start of the trail to the Observation Platform overlooking the Danshui River estuary.
Alternatively, hikers can take the S6 from the same bus stop to its terminus at Ching Tien Temple, and from there do the hike over Ta Tun West Peak in the opposite direction (Saunders includes this route).
Either way it's a splendid three hours of walking, so long as you're happy negotiating some mildly slippery slopes with the aid of a couple of stalwart ropeways.
But Ta Tun Shan is only one of the 30 routes described in detail in this spectacularly useful book. Some of his day-trips take you much further afield. There's information on how to get to Paradise Valley -- not a valley at all but a grassy hilltop with extensive views -- and to the spectacular Turtle Mountain Island, both in Ilan County. Keelung Island is described as well. Then there's the trail inland from Fulong Beach to Shih Cheng, and even Fire Mountain in Miaoli County is included.
Other highlights for the intrepid are the airy heights of Wu Liao Chien (the less challenging, but still thrilling ridge of Huang Di Dien is described in the first volume), and the Pingxi Three Peaks in the Keelung River valley (best attempted in two trips, the author advises).
Historical details are also included so that you not only learn how to get to places, but something of their background as well. The history of Shih Men Reservoir in Taoyuan County, the origin of the standing stone on the way to Ta Tun Shan's Towards Heaven Pool, and the uses of the White Horse General Cave near Shen Keng are all there.
One of the greatest virtues of this magnificent book is its inclusion of place names in Chinese characters. This makes asking bus drivers to put you down where you want to be easy for non-Chinese speakers. Another attraction is that there's a general summary of the proposed walk before details of how to follow the trail are given. This way you can first get a general idea of the kind of excursion involved so you can then decide if it suits the time and energy you have at your disposal.